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Archive for November, 2009

Warning this review rant  contains plot spoilers.

I sat down to write a review of law abiding citizen but to be honest the film is so bad, I really can’t be bothered to spend the time on a proper review. The problems with it are: Morally the film has little to offer and any message it may have for good or bad is clouded by a ridiculously convoluted and contrived (I think contrived, is my most overused word this month!) plot. The twist, if you can call it that is ludicrous and adds nothing to the film.

All this could be overlooked if the film was entertaining and well made, but sadly it isn’t! and here comes the plot spoiler: The plot involves a geniuses mastermind who kills numerous people whilst being locked in a prison cell. He plants a bomb to kill a group of people who can’t be evacuated because he has tapped into the security camera and will blow the bomb if they try to leave. However he doesn’t think to have camera pointed at the bomb or have a motion detector on it to prevent someone from moving it. And finally most of the plot and the action is in the trailer so if you have seen the trailer you really don’t need to see the film.

But don’t let me put you off, it has had some okay reviews. If I have put you off and you want a revenge thriller Harry Brown is a considerably better film if almost as morally questionable.

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When I first saw it back in January I was really taken with Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist. A film I only went to see because there was nothing else out that looked better that I hadn’t already seen, I was really pleasantly surprised. What I expected to be a typical teen comedy was far more engaging and entertaining.  As it came out before I started my blog the most I have had to say about it so far was a couple of paragraphs on facebook that I duplicated in an early blog, so as I have just seen it again on DVD it seems like a good time to review it.

Set in New York over a single night and staring Nick (Michael Cera) as a student who is trying to get over his break-up with Tris (Alexis Dziena), the girl who has left him heartbroken. In truth, he has no intention of getting over her, he is too busy wallowing in self pity. He spends his time burning mix CD’s for Tris (he is up to 12 since the break-up). What he doesn’t realise is that she has being disposing of them un-played . What he also doesn’t know is that Tris’s school “friend” Norah (Kat Dennings) has been listening to the CD’s and is infatuated with Nick despite the fact they have never met.

A somewhat contrived series of events leads to Nick and Norah meeting in New York bar where Nick’s band is playing. Nick is the only straight member of the “queercore” band The Jerk-Offs who are a drummer short of being a good. Once together Nick and Norah try to find the secret venue where there favourite band “Where’s Fluffy” will be playing. There are subplots involving Nicks band mates losing Norah’s drunk fried Caroline (Ari Graynor) as well as meetings with Tirs and Norah’s ex Tal (Jay Baruchel).

The reasons the film works so well are multiple. The story is simple and believable and the scenarios are completing. More importantly the casting and acting is great. Michael Cera plays the awkward geeky teen better than anyone (with the possible exception of Jesse Eisenberg) as proved by his performance in Juno. I haven’t made my mind up about Kat Dennings acting ability yet but she is totally adorable and perfectly cast in this film. There is also a great supporting cast including the aforementioned Alexis Dziena and Ari Graynor as well as Rafi Gavron and Aaron Yoo as Nicks band mates and Jonathan Bradford Wright as the guy the pickup along the way.

With his lack of fashionable cloths and seriously crap Yugo for a car Nick defines himself by his taste in music this is demonstrated in his mix CD’s, the, music on his Ipod and his ring tone (“Boys Don’t Cry” by The Cure). That in itself is actually sort of the point of the film, in a Facebook/My Space/YouTube world where everyone knows so much about each other, the idea of “what we like” being more important than “what we are like” that was explored in Nick Hornby’s High Fidelity becomes more interesting. More than coincidence, it is actually taste in music that brings Nick and Norah together. To back this up the film needs a great soundtrack, and it doesn’t disappoint with “of the moment” bands including Vampire Weekend and We Are Scientists providing the music.

The only real problem with the film is Nicks & Norah’s respective ex’s Tris and Tal. Firstly Nick and Tris are so different, it is hard to see what they first saw in each other. Secondly she is a complete vacuous selfish bitch who cheated on Nick all the time they were together. Even with a “love is blind” mentality it is hard to see how they lasted six months. Tal is no better, a singer with limited talent who appears to only be with Norah in the hope she will help him out with her famous record producer farther. However these characters are essential to the plot, the fact that Tris and Tal are so unworthy of Nick and Norah is the crux of the film as demonstrated in key scenes when our protagonists realise this, long after their friends and us viewers!

This is could be one of the first film of a new subgenre or a redefinition of the coming of age/romantic comedy drama. It plays well alongside other recent films such as Adventureland, (500) Days of Summer and Zombieland (yes I really did say Zombieland!). Having said that it’s spiritual forefather is probably more like Richard Linklater’s Before Sunrise, a romantic comedy for film lovers who hate romantic comedies; in other words me!

 

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The Informant & A Serious Man

I don’t have time to post full reviews on a couple of films I have seen this week so here are mini reviews and a few thoughts on The Informant & A Serious Man

The Informant!

Set in the’90s, Mark Whitacre (Matt Damon) works for a large agrichemical firm. He is forced by his employers to liaise with the FBI in an effort to catch an industrial spy and an employee of a competitor who is trying to extort money from them. During the investigation he reveals that the company and many of its competitors are colluding in price-fixing. As the two year investigation unfolds we soon realise that Whitacre is not as honest as he makes out and is a somewhat unreliable witness.

On the whole the film is not as good as two films I can’t help comparing it to. Michael Mann’s The Insider is a much better film and is more substantial and George Clooney’s Confessions of a Dangerous Mind (executive produced by Steven Soderbergh) is much funnier. The thing that really elevates the film is Matt Damon’s great performance including his quirky voiceover. He is really proving to be a good and surprisingly versatile actor.

All in all it is a quirky and enjoyable film that is well worth seeing if not my favourite film of recent weeks.

A Serious Man

Such is the great breadth of their work you never know what you are going to get from the Coen brothers. Unsurprisingly A Serious Man proves to be one of their most bizarre films of recent years, Surprisingly however it is also one of their most engaging.

The plot is surprisingly simple and revolves around Larry Gopnik’s (Michael Stuhlbarg), the head of a dysfunctional-family (are all movie families dysfunctional?), everything seems to be going wrong for him and not only does he not know why he seems powerless to stop it. The acting from the largely unknown cast is impeccable and the film is beautifully shot as always with the Coen’s. It lacks the gravity of No Country for Old Men and the laugh out load comedy of some of their earlier films but is immensely watchable.

A lot of the film including the cliff-hanger ending will have you scratching your head but that’s no bad thing!

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Frozen River

 Shortly before Christmas Ray Eddy’s (Melissa Leo) gambling addicted husband takes off with the money they have set aside for a payment on their soon to be delivered new “double-wide” mobile home.  Only working part time, Ray is struggling to support her family until an opportunity presents itself. A chance encounter with young Mohawk woman, Lila Littlewolf starts a chain of events that result in the two women smuggling illegal aliens across the border in the trunk of Ray’s car.  They are able to drive across the frozen river of the title without being stopped by the border patrol as the there is a Mohawk reservation on both the U.S. and the Canadian side of the river where the border patrol have no jurisdiction.  They make several runs together and find the arrangement mutually beneficial, as Lila explains a white woman is far less likely to be stopped by the police once they have left the reservation.  Obviously things don’t always go to plan and there are some problems along the way but the film does have a strangely satisfying conclusion.

The acting is very low key with genuine sounding dialogue adding to the power of the story.  All the main cast are excellent not just Oscar-nominated Melissa Leo.  First time director Courtney Hunt has crafted an often beautiful film whose message strangely lies away from the people trafficking plot.

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Following my review of The Twilight Saga: New Moon I decided to take a look at its place amongst vampire movies. Undead creatures that drink blood to survive have been part of folklore for as long as people have told stories. The Term vampire probably dates back to the 18th century with the influx of literature on the subject, the most famous but not the firstof these was Dracula by Bram Stoker. Vampires have also appeared in countless films for nearly 100 years. 

Since the Twilight novels have started to be adapted into films, vampires have become hugely fashionable but at what cost to the genre? The vampires in these films are very different to what we are used to seeing, and the films are very different to other vampire films. Twilight has been praised in some quarters for its moral subtext promoting abstinence amongst teenagers (didn’t Britney Spears to do that for a time? worked out well for her!). The films display sexual tension amongst adolescents without being in any way sexual. The  main characters are portrayed as being abstinent despite being deeply in love, it isn’t exactly subtle! It isn’t a problem for a film itself but for a vampire film it doesn’t sit well with me. So what is the problem? To be blunt sex! Vampires have always being portrayed as sexual creatures. The drinking of blood is basically an exchange of bodily fluids and has been sexualised in vampire literature since Victorian times. Look at the classic days of horror, Christopher Lee’s Dracula in the Hammer films very much favoured young buxom females when he was thirsty. During the 70’s there was a plethora of lesbian themed vampire movies such as The Vampire lovers, Twins of Evil, Vampyres and Requiem for a Vampire. Some more overt than others but they tend to follow a theme of  lust and not love. Fast forward to 1983 and The Hunger explores the relationship between a vampire and a mortal lover who ages. This is touched upon in New Moon and in both cases borders on the philosophical point of what it is to be human. The Hunger however retains the sexual nature of vampires. Vampires in other films such as Near Dark, The Lost Boys and Innocent Blood all use sex to attract both companions and food. To love but not lust is a great betrayal of the beast and the complete opposite of what we have come to expect from vampire movies.

The film also has a very poor portrayal of woman, with Bella constantly needing to be rescued my male characters. In the face of supernatural creatures it can easily be argued that Bella’s weakness is directly attributed to her species and not her sex, but it is still sending a message that it is easy to interpret negatively at a time and in a film that would be an ideal opportunity to demonstrate empowerment; Buffy v Bella as role model is an entire blog in itself.  The other criticism is the myth created for the characters; the vampires sparkle in sunlight instead of fry. They are nearly impossible for anyone other than a werewolf or another vampire to kill them. The invulnerability destroys lots of the danger the characters can ever be in therefore reducing any suspense. The glittering in sunlight is actually amusing more than anything as the audience reaction to New Moon is anything to go by! I don’t have a problem with this change in the myth especially when you consider vampires aversion to sunlight was only invented by the movies in 1922 in Nosferatu, I am not aware of any previous reference. It just feels so contrived, I have often wondered if Stephenie Meyer sat down and said to herself, how can I get over the sunlight problem so I can send my vampire to school.

There is also a problem with the Cullen’s, they don’t kill people making them a part of society. But this is against their character; the other vampires of the film are killers. What message are we supposed to draw from this? These people who are different from us are inherently evil killers but some of them try really, really hard to emulate us so they can pretend to be like us and live amongst us, but they are still killers deep down. To make the Cullen’s the exception to the norm of the species creates a different dynamic than if they had been the norm and there where a few rogue killers. This would have made them inclusive and prevented any kind of xenophobic connotations. If you don’t drawn any meaning from the characters and take them as just that characters within a piece of fiction this is fine but the film loses something as a result.   By presenting the vampire as a “good guy” changes the overall focus of the genre. Without a monster to play off against, how heroic can the hero be? That is what reduces the film to a romantic drama. There is nothing wrong with a romantic drama as such, but it really doesn’t need a mythical creature to enhance it, if anything it hinders the films ability to function. To resolve this issue the film must create an adversary, in the first film it was the killer nomadic vampires but in the second film we get a new opponent. Unusually it is in this opponent that the films may find their redemption and justification. The chosen adversaries are werewolves; one of them also acts as the final part of a love triangle. Presenting both the werewolves and the vampires as enemies but both on the side of good makes for an entirely different scenario.   The two groups could be considered to simply misunderstand each other. If they can find some common ground, possibly through Bella the subtext would play out as a story of acceptance. Or I could be reading too much into it and it is just a film about the difficulties of first love!

There are no simple answers but the conclusion I have drawn is that Twilight will do no lasting damage to vampire movies. I suspect as we reach saturation point they will go out of fashion forcing writers and directors to come up with something fresh and original to rejuvenate the genre. It has happened before. Blade moved vampires away from Horror and reinvented it as action. This continued with Underworld and culminated in 30 Days of Night that successfully blended horror and action and benefitted from an ingenious use of location. There will also be other filmmakers who take a different view, Let the Right One In is not one of the best vampire movies of recent years it is one of THE best movies of recent years. Daybreakers due out early next year also promises to have some new and interesting ideas; it certainly has a concept that although not completely original appears to be taken further than ever before. So those people who dislike Twilight or are becoming disillusioned with the genre, don’t worry, the genre is as hard to kill as the creatures it portrays. Vampires will be back as bloody and seductive as ever and they won’t sparkle in sunlight, we just may have to wait a few years!

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bond mixing a martiniI mentioned in an earlier blog that James Bond Doesn’t just drink Martinis. He actually seems to drink more Champagne than anything. At times it is actually part of the plot or used to demonstrate Bonds character or knowledge. Although the rather cheesy commercial below will have you believe that Bond only drinks Bollinger that isn’t entirely true. The original character in Ian Fleming’s novels preferred Taittinger remarking in Cassino Royale “[1943 Taittinger] is probably the finest champagne in the world”

Bollinger In Bond Films

  • Live and Let Die: Bollinger
  • Moonraker: Bollinger RD ’69
  • View to a Kill: Bollinger ’75
  • License to Kill: Bollinger RD ’75
  • The Living Daylights: Bollinger
  • Goldeneye: Bollinger Grande Année 1988
  • Tomorrow Never Dies: Bollinger Grande Année 1989
  • The World Is Not Enough: Bollinger Grande Année 1990
  • Die Another Day: Bollinger ’61
  • Casino Royale: Bollinger Grande Année 1990
  • Quantum of Solacee: Bollinger

Other Champagne in Bond films

  • Dr. No: Dom Perignon ’55
  • From Russia with Love: Taittinger Blanc de Blanc
  • Goldfinger: Dom Perignon ’53
  • Thunderball: Dom Perignon ’55 (to accompany Beluga Caviar)
  • You Only Live Twice: Dom Perignon ’59,
  • On Her Majesty’s Secret Service Dom Perignon ’57.
  • The Man With The Golden Gun: Dom Perignon ’64

Notable Champagne Scenes:

The Spy Who Loved Me, Bond:  Bond quips “Maybe I misjudged Stromberg. Any man who drinks Dom Perignon ’52 can’t be all bad

Goldfinger: shortly before being painted gold Jill Masterson (Shirley Eaton) is in bed with Bond, he gets up to get them a bottle of Champagne from the fridge bestowing these words of wisdom: “My dear girl, there are some things that just aren’t done. Such as drinking Dom Perignon ’53 above a temperature of 38 degrees Farenheight. That’s as bad as listening to the Beatles without earmuffs.”

The Living Daylights: Bond delivers a Harrods hamper to General Georgi Koskov who has defected and is being hidden in a country house. “What’s this? From Harrods a godsend, the food here is horrible. What’s this, Caviar, well that’s peasant food for us, but with champagne it’s ok. And more – Bollinger RD – the best!” Bond explains he took the liberty of changing it as the brand on the list was “questionable”.

Die Another day: After fourteen months of captivity Bond walks into a posh Hong Kong hotel looking like Robinson Crusoe with tatty clothes, long hair and a bushy beard. He asks for a room, food and champagne, “If there’s any left, the ’61 Bollinger” Now that’s style, shame the films crap!

And with all this Champagne that Bond drinks do you think I can find a picture of him drinking it?

bond with martinibond with another martinigeorge lazenby

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Warning this review contains plot spoilers to this film and Gran Torino.

Earlier this year Clint Eastwood’s Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino borrowed from previous characters like Harry Callahan and Tom Highway but renounced violence and revenge with a powerful if not surprising twist. In the same way Michael Caine’s Harry Brown could draw inspiration from his old characters like Jack Carter although his actions are probably more akin to Charles Bronson’s Paul Kersey. Harry is a pensioner living on a south London housing estate that is terrorised by drug dealing “hoodies”. Recently widowed his only evident friend Leonard is killed by said hoodies. The police represented by an underdeveloped but well acted DCI Frampton (Emily Mortimer) are ineffective in catching the perpetrators. Eventually Harry decides he has had enough and decides to take action. Fortunately Harry is a former Royal Marine making his revenge more successful and believable than with your average 76 year old.

The film is surprisingly slow burning and slow building with confident direction from first time director Daniel Barber. The story is relatively simple and the script is wonderfully economical with dialogue. For all its good points the film would have been utter rubbish without a charismatic and towering performance from Michael Caine who is entering a new stage in his career with roles that include Clarence in Is Anybody There? and Alfred in the Batman Films. And that is where we have an interesting comparison. Through the odd line of dialogue it is suggested that Alfred Pennyworth has a military background; would Alfred resort to similar actions as Harry in a Gotham without Batman? You may be wondering why I am digressing into Batman but that it does have an interesting parallel, Harry and Bruce Wayne are both basically vigilantes. However Batman has a more moral subtext as Bruce is tormented by his actions where as Harry simply goes through the motions. Traditionally in movies, people who take the law into there own hands follow a sort of Hays Code type story arc where they either don’t survive their actions or realise they have become as bad as their enemy and spend the rest of the film trying to seek redemption. If anything Harry finds something to live for in his actions. The film is often unpleasant to watch and bordering of fascist in it rhetoric but is strangely compelling mainly because of Caine.

So following this esoteric rant you are wondering if I thought the film was any good. Simply the film was very good, hugely enjoyable despite moral concerns I may have.

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